Frightening fragmentation

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Voice of Experience

Summer is a heartbreaker all right. Sun, beach, kids, grandkids, family dinners, late night walks under the moon, flowers and fresh fruit and friends, it all goes by so fast. And it’s so wonderful. And there looms the spectre of fall and winter just behind. Yes, I do remind myself every moment to revel in summer. With pain and disability, that is not always possible but mostly it’s enough just to show up, to have such great times with my kids and grandkids, to be in love with the world.

But it’s odd to come up from the beach and turn on the news, which I haven’t actually done for a while. The contrast is so jarring. My lovely friends from Germany insist that the Kootenays aren’t real, that we live in a dream world. Yes, that’s maybe true but the mountains and the lake don’t care – they have been here for many millions of years, reflecting on each other while people and their crazy affairs went on by. The deer and the bears and trout and osprey don’t care – they have a living to make and food to find. I do care, and deeply, but there’s not much I can do about the world out there and while I don’t ignore it, and I still read and pay attention, I do as much as I can in my own world to live a life that is present and worthwhile. What else can I do?

I have been asking myself that for some time. I went on my first protest march against the Vietnam War when I was eighteen and living in Vancouver. All my life, I have been “political”, studying, writing and trying to understand how to live well. But for many years now, it has seemed to me that the world is full of a fragmented cacophony of voices, all yelling at each other with not much listening going on. I don’t want to add to this often crazy-seeming noise. I do linger on Facebook for a while every day and I appreciate it a lot. I like social media. But somehow, it seems to have been decreed that Facebook and other social media sites are for positive minimal commentary – about pets and gardens and good times. There is political discussion, occasionally, but it often gets abrasive and downright mean. I usually use the same tone of voice and politeness on social media that I would at any social gathering, light, superficial, nice. I am nice.

But that begs the whole question: how to cope or understand or even live with the world in a status of such frightening fragmentation. Perhaps it has always been like this. My friend Sam and I have been discussing the ways of the world and what we can personally do about it for some forty-two years. We used to worry about our children and now more than ever we worry about a future for our grandchildren. We don’t have that much of a stake in this world anymore but our grandchildren do and we want for them what we wanted for our own children, only the best of everything.

All my life I have been shuttling back and forth, like some demented beetle, from the world of work and university, back to the Kootenays, to farming, mountains and wildness. I have never let go of either. Now I mostly stay home and while I miss academia, I am quite sure I made the right choice by choosing the Kootenays, which means that I am surrounded by the things I treasure the most. But this also means many of the people I love are far away and working in the city. They come in the summer. Everyone comes in the summer. The lake road is a madhouse of cars, motorcycles and bumbling RV drivers. People come and go from the farm everyday. The teapot is filled and emptied again. The afternoon sun broils the earth and at night the bright moon sprinkles the water with glitter.

It all goes by in roar, the summer freight train, weighted with goodies and fun. Boats race in circles on the lake; cabins fill and empty again. It’s a kind of craziness, the Canadian summer. There are ghosts behind it, like the troll faces in the beach rocks at night. Memories built and lived. Traditions. Whose turn this year to be the kid who learns to jump off the high steep Fishing Rock? Who will be the first to race up the cliff face above the beach? Who can still eat fifteen peaches a day?

It’s all so perfect and so evanescent, like the pattern in a dragonfly wings as it hovers over my hand. Even as summer hovers over the land, the light starts to slide off the gold of the dry grass.

A time of hazed lovely intensity. Here, gone, treasured always. At night we will sit under the light of the moon and burn marshmallows. What else are marshmallows good for?

The grandkids will race along the white lines of driftwood, high above the beach. Parents will yell reflexively, “Be careful”, even though they did the same thing.

And at night, I will lie down to sleep, listening to the odd thud of the last ripe syrupy yellow plums drifting to the ground. Summer. You tear me to pieces, you really do.


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